Agility and agent relationships the secret of Smith’s trading success
The Smiths of Tambo Crossing have reshaped their farm business and nothing, not even succession, a health crisis, drought and two bushfires, can stop them.
Brad and Jen Smith took on the family’s 600-hectare farm after Brad’s father, David, had a stroke.
David and wife Heather were long-time Hereford, Merino sheep and goat breeders but, with the full support of both generations, the family removed the goats and added a trading element to their sheep and beef enterprises.
Although it was a leap of faith, the Smiths were clear-eyed about managing risk.
“We like buying young, small heifers, for example, because there’s a few options,” Brad said.
“We can keep those heifers for six months and export them or sell them on the local market.
“You can get them in calf and sell them as pregnancy-tested heifers but, if that’s not where the money is or prices have dropped, we can keep their calves and, 12 months later, there’s another option there.”
The Smiths said they had a strong relationship with their livestock agents as well as the rest of the service team at their local Elders branch in Bairnsdale.
Being in contact with their agents “a couple of times” each week was just one part of a strategy that puts the family in poll position for any and every trading opportunity.
“It’s easy for me to pop into Elders after picking the kids up, too,” Jen said.
“They engage the whole family and are genuinely helping us in our business. They want to see us succeed.”
The addition of electronic identification, scales and regularly weighing of sheep and cattle several years ago strengthened the Smiths’ business.
“When our lambs are ready, we weigh them and send that summary shot of the scales through to the agent,” Brad said.
“Instead of saying we’ve got 500 lambs, we can say we’ve got 126 at 46-48 kilos, another 330 from 48-50 kilos, and so on.
“It helps us understand our production and helps our agents better place our livestock in the market to secure the best possible price.”
Those meticulous farm records and the Smiths’ agility paid dividends when fire swept through the Tambo Crossing home farm and their Clifton Creek out-block last summer.
“We’re usually pretty heavily stocked and budget our feed carefully, knowing what pasture we have and how long we expect it to last,” Jen said.
“The fire took out 300 acres of grass and, the day it happened, the agent asked what we needed.
“I told him we had to sell them as we just didn’t have the feed for them straightaway. We made the decision 30 in seconds and we got good money for those 100 cows because we could move so quickly.”
The Smiths had been well prepared for the fire and bounced back quickly. Much of the infrastructure razed in a 2007 bushfire was either fire resistant – like steel fencing – or well protected by impressive watering systems.
Even so, there were months of endlessly long days spent cleaning up after the fires had gone and the impact on the east Gippsland farming community was profound.
“One of the catch phrases around bushfire recovery is post-traumatic growth and, in 2007, our community at Tambo Crossing really grew in their relationships with each other and as a community, which set us up well for this most recent fire,” Jen said.
“Now, we’re experiencing that growth again in rural communities right across east Gippsland as they support each other.”
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